One-time reorganization costs, writeoffs and provisions led the Carl Zeiss group to post a net loss of about 100 million DM (e 50m) in the year ended Sept. 30, but the management predicts a return to positive results in the current year. The group's operating income actually improved on a comparable basis from 8 to 36 million DM (e18m) on 6 percent higher group sales of 3.2 billion DM (e1.6bn).
In the course of last year, more than 600 employes were laid off at various factories within the group's 6 business units throughout Germany, and about 150 were hired, leaving Zeiss with about 9,300 employees in Germany and 4,100 in the rest of the world. Layoffs took place within the consumer opticts division, the group's largest one, whose results stopped deteriorating. The division's revenues increased at an unspecified rate to about 800 million DM (e400m) , driven by brisk sales of high-index plastic lenses, whose sales have grown by about 30 percent since last January, and by sales of lenses to Sony for its successful 5505 DSC Digital Still Camera.
To help cope with the increased demand, to improve margins and to help rationalize the entire production apparatus, Zeiss completed in October a realignment of its various lens manufacturing plants at a cost of more than 30 million DM (e15m), of which 20 million DM were spent on its main production factories in southern Germany. In particular, the group's production of high-end plastic lenses has been consolidated in Aalen. The production of moulds for plastic lenses and of high-quality semifinished glass lenses, mostly progressive lenses, has been concentrated in Nattheim. The production of low-index plastic lenses is performed instead in Hungary.
The production of plastic lenses of all kinds was previously dispersed among the three locations. The new set-up allows the group to respond faster to market changes, and to improve deliveries. A new manufacturing area in Aalen, equipped with state-of-the-art technologies, provides for a potential increase of more than 200 percent in capacity. The degree of automation has been improved sharply. Different plastics can be processed on the same line, allowing maximum flexibility and speed.
The production of contact lenses by Zeiss' fully-owned Wöhlk subsidiary has been reorganized as well. The production facilities, quality assurance and administration departments, which were previously located in separate places, have been combined into a single new building of 7,500 square meters in Schönkirchen. The emphasis is on modular design for quick adaptation to new conditions, optimized material flow and utmost process efficiency. Zeiss has also opened in Schönkirchen a new central Customer Care Center (CCC) covering the entire range of Zeiss consumer optics, including eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses, binoculars and instruments.
Zeiss plans to expand the range of its High End Eyewear frames, first introduced at last May's MIDO show. New models will be introduced at the upcoming optical fair in Salzburg, and more still at the Cologne and Milan fairs. The introduction of the range in Germany has been accompanied since October by large posters in 16 German cities. Individual opticians have beeen given the possibility until Dec. 31 to order posters featuring also their names and locations for a small extra fee of between 35 and 150 DM per poster.
Zeiss is helping the final customer to find the nearest of the 3,000 opticians in Germany and Luxembourg who offer Zeiss lenses by listing them in its own redesigned website, www.zeiss.de. The internet user simply enters the name of the town, the postal code or the telephone prefix. Links can be established to the opticians' own websites on demand.